If you follow our 3 day itinerary Lisbon becomes manageable. We show you the stunning riverside suburb of Belem, which is home to some of the best attractions in Lisbon. We also delve into the labyrinth of the Alfama, Lisbon’s old Moorish quarter, and the heights of the Bairro Alto and Chiado. These are the best areas in Lisbon for visitors to explore.
It is a relatively small capital city, so three days in Lisbon is ample time to cover the main Lisbon attractions. You may even try to squeeze in a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon, or perhaps a trip to one of the nearby beaches instead. However I’d only be inclined to do this if you’re staying 4 days in Lisbon.
- 1 Lisbon 3 Day Itinerary Highlights
- 2 Day 1 Morning – A Ride on the Tram 28 Lisbon
- 3 Day 1 – The Alfama
- 4 Castelo de São Jorge
- 5 Sé de Lisboa
- 6 Wandering through Alfama
- 7 Museu do Fado
- 8 Museu Nacional do Azulejo – National Tile Museum
- 9 Day 1 Evening – Dinner and Fado in the Alfama
- 10 Day 2 – Belem, Lisbon
- 11 Pasteis de Belem
- 12 Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
- 13 Torre de Belem
- 14 Padrão dos Descobrimentos
- 15 Museums in Belem
- 16 Day 2 Evening
- 17 Day 3 – Baixa, Bairro Alto and Chiado
- 18 Rossio Square
- 19 Elevador de Santa Justa
- 20 Convento do Carmo
- 21 Igreja de Sao Roque
- 22 A Brasileira Lisbon
- 23 Miradouro de Santa Catarina
- 24 Elevador da Bica
- 25 Praça do Comercio
- 26 Ginjinha Sem Rival
- 27 Elevador da Gloria
- 28 Dinner in Bairro Alto
- 29 Getting Around Lisbon
- 30 Where To Stay In Lisbon
- 31 MORE OF PORTUGAL
- 32 Planning The Best Portugal 10 Day Itinerary
- 33 The Chapel of Bones Evora
- 34 The Best Things To Do in Evora Portugal
Lisbon 3 Day Itinerary Highlights
- Explore the famous Lisbon miradouros, a series of terraced viewpoints around the centre of Lisbon
- Take one of the best public transport journeys in the world, the roller-coaster 28 tram from Campo Ourique to Graça
- Walk the narrow streets and lanes of the Alfama, the Moorish quarter that’s the oldest and best neighbourhood in Lisbon
- Spend a day in Belem, home to the elaborate Jeronimos Monastery, the Belem Tower and the Portuguese custard tart
- Enjoy the Bairro Alto bars for the best of the Lisbon nightlife.
Day 1 Morning – A Ride on the Tram 28 Lisbon
So what’s the best way to start your Lisbon sightseeing? In some cities, such as London, Berlin or Paris, I’d suggest an open-top bus tour. This is a great way of getting your bearings and putting pieces of the jigsaw together in your mind. But there’s a better way of doing it in Lisbon. You just need to set your alarm clock to get the best out of it.
Some of the Lisbon trams are positively antiquated, but they’re still in service 80 years on. This is because nothing else can cover the steep hilly terrain as well. The underground Lisbon Metro is fine for the flat Baixa district but hopeless for getting to the medina-like Alfama area.
The tram 28 ride is possibly the best thing to do in Lisbon, especially if it’s your first visit. However, it has very limited capacity – around 20 seats plus standing room. During the daytime it’s crammed to capacity, and there’s no pleasure in travelling like that. There are even queues to get on at the termini, Prazeres Cemetery and Martim Moniz. It’s also a notorious pickpocket route, with passengers near the exits the most vulnerable targets.
The only way to beat the hordes is to get the first tram of the day, when most others are still asleep. If you’ve chosen to stay in central Lisbon, it’s logical to take the early tram from Martim Moniz out to Prazeres rather than the other way around. As you’ll have already passed several of the best things to do in Lisbon, it makes sense to double back on the 28 as far as Alfama.
I also prefer travelling west to east towards Alfama and Martim Moniz, as you get better views. You start outside the historic Prazeres cemetery, soon passing the gleaming white domed Basilica da Estrela. Shortly afterwards you pass the Palacio de São Bento, home to the Portuguese Parliament, on your left. It then runs parallel to the River Tagus (Rio Tejo) before reaching Praça Luis de Camões in Chiado. Then things start to get really interesting.
The old Lisbon 28 tram then has to negotiate its way down a seemingly impossible precipitous hill towards Baixa. It squeaks, creaks and cranks its way down the hill before the terrain briefly flattens out. It then hauls itself up the hill the other side, soon reaching the austere but beautiful façade of the Sé, Lisbon Cathedral. The tram then passes some of the miradouros of the Alfama, before the steep climb towards the handsome domed church of São Vicente de Fora. It then continues up the hill through the suburb of Graça before dropping down to the Mouraria district and Martim Moniz.
One of the best viewpoints in Lisbon is the Miradouro da Nossa Senhora do Monte, which is a few minutes’ walk from the Rua da Graça stop. You get an outstanding view from there right across the city, with the Castelo de São Jorge, the Tejo and the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge beyond.
Day 1 – The Alfama
Now that you’ve had an overview of the city, it’s time to delve into one of the most fascinating areas of Lisbon, Alfama. On your way down the hill, stop by at the Miradouro da Graça, which offers a fine view across the Baixa district and the Castelo. It’s also a great spot to enjoy a morning coffee and pastry. The café com pouco de leite gives a nice rich caffeine kick to boost you after your early start.
The Alfama is one of the best places in Lisbon to explore. Two of the best views in Lisbon are just a minute’s walk apart. The view from the terrace at Largo das Portas do Sol is magnificent at any time of day. You see the church of São Vicente de Fora and the dome of the National Pantheon from here, with a solitary palm tree rising above the terracotta rooftops of the Alfama next to the terrace.
The Miradouro de Santa Luzia is barely one hundred metres away, behind the church of the same name. It has a beautiful terrace with a tiled painting of the Praça do Comercio as it looked before the 1755 earthquake. The view’s pretty special too, looking out over the Alfama to the church of Santo Estevão.
Castelo de São Jorge
The Moorish era Lisbon Castle is one of the oldest buildings in the city, and one of its best-known landmarks. It’s at the top of the hill behind the miradouros. Expect a five-to-ten-minute walk up the steep cobbled lanes to reach it. The closest public transport gets is the 737 bus, which stops very close to the entrance.
The Castelo has an amazing setting, with a superb outlook from the terrace. When it was in use as a fortress, it would have been a brilliant vantage point. Now it’s an ideal spot to stop for a drink and soak in the sight of Lisbon below.
Sé de Lisboa
Lisbon’s Cathedral dates from the 12th century, when Crusaders began building it over the foundations of a mosque. It’s a twin-towered Gothic beauty that you see from the 28 tram – the 12 also passes in front of it.
It’s a very simple, plain building outside and in, without much in the way of adornment. St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of Lisbon, is believed to have been baptised in the cathedral font, which hasn’t changed in over 800 years.
Wandering through Alfama
For many years, Alfama was one of the poorest parts of Lisbon. You don’t see many signs of it now other than the odd crumbling house front. Yet this was a rambling slum, where seamen and dockers lived in terrible poverty.
The Alfama is so different now, and the best way to see it is to abandon the map for a while and just wander. The medieval streetscape is now full of cafes, bars and small shops. The steep, narrow travessas, becos (alleys) and escadinhas (staircases) of Alfama cannot accommodate vehicles, so it’s on foot that you must go.
Museu do Fado
Fado is a genre of uniquely Portuguese singing and music. It’s rather introspective and melancholic, so don’t go in there expecting anything upbeat. Song lyrics usually concern the harshness of life, and many songs can best be described as laments. They often express saudade, a sense of longing and sadness. The singing is usually accompanied by guitar, mandolin or viola, though in modern fado piano and accordion are also used.
The tradition dates back around 200 years, with two similar styles – Lisbon and Coimbra fado – evolving. I found the overall feel of the music and songs reminiscent of some classic French chansons, including the great Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
The Museu do Fado is a great place for an introduction to fado. You can find out about its history, hear some of the music and learn about some of the fado greats, including Amalia Rodrigues.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo – National Tile Museum
The next suggested location isn’t the easiest to reach, but you can get a bus from outside the Museu do Fado directly there.
The National Tile Museum is a celebration of the azulejo, the ceramic tile that is a hugely popular form of decoration in Portugal. I believe it’s one of the best museums in Lisbon. It’s housed in the Convento Madre de Deus, a ten-minute walk from Santa Apolonia station and Metro stop. It’s a beautiful setting for some exceptional displays, including one of the full Lisbon waterfront pre-earthquake.
If travelling from the Museu do Fado, cross Avenida Infante Dom Henrique to the Casa do Conto bus stop. This is right outside the Lisbon cruise terminal. From there, catch the 759 or 210 to Igreja Madre Deus bus stop, which is right outside the Museum. You can also catch either bus from further away in Praça do Comercio.
Day 1 Evening – Dinner and Fado in the Alfama
The Alfama is a great place to see a fado performance. The place I visited is Duetos da Sé, on Travessa do Almargem, an alleyway next to the Cathedral. They have a fairly full musical programme, with performances every night of the week except Wednesdays. Performances start at 9.30 pm, and you can book a table for dinner while you watch the show. It’s a very atmospheric place to see a fado show in Lisbon. There are several other Lisbon fado restaurants and bars close by, including the Clube de Fado on Rua São João da Prata. Most places tend to have a cover charge if you’re dining during the performance – this is usually around 10€.
Day 2 – Belem, Lisbon
Some of the best places to visit in Lisbon are a few miles to the west in the suburb of Belem. As you’re spending 72 hours in Lisbon, it deserves a full day of your time.
Lisbon tram 15 leaves Praça da Figueira in the Baixa downtown area, and takes 30 minutes to reach Belem. You need to get off at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos stop, but before you go there it’s time to sample a local delicacy.
Pasteis de Belem
The Antiga Confeitaria de Belem is a café and bakery on the main Rua de Belem route. It’s home to the legendary Pasteis de Belem, the most delicious Portuguese custard tarts I’ve ever tried. There’s table service, so you find somewhere to seat, then you place your order.
The tarts – also known as pasteis de nata in Portuguese – are a delectable melt-in-the-mouth experience. The pastry is very fine and flaky. As well as eating in, you can also take away a box of tarts. They’re best eaten fresh, so you may end up adding a little to your midriff.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
The Jeronimos Monastery, also known as the Hieronymite Monastery, is one of the best sights in Lisbon. It’s a glorious church and monastery complex, built in the late 15th century from the proceeds of the Portuguese Voyages of Discovery around Africa to India.
It’s one of the best examples of the Manueline style, a uniquely Portuguese take on late Gothic architecture. It’s full of rich, elaborate carvings and is in some ways the precursor to the florid Baroque style that followed around Europe over a century later. It’s the most impressive monument in Lisbon, and together with the Belem Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Torre de Belem
The Belem Tower is one of the best known Lisbon tourist attractions, and one of the most familiar sights in Portugal. This small castellated tower on the banks of the Tagus was once known as the Castle of St Vincent. It was built to commemorate the voyage of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama around southern Africa to India. The Tower also served to defend the Tagus estuary from possible enemy incursions.
It’s beautiful both inside and out, and is one of Portugal’s best Manueline buildings. The views through the arches of the King’s Room over the river are worth the entry fee alone.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
The Monument to the Discoveries was built to mark the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator. Dom Henrique o Navegador instigated many of Portugal’s forays overseas, including down the West African coast. It also commemorates the later Voyages around the world, and includes a series of statues of explorers looking out over the river.
It was completed in 1960, when Portugal was still in the grip of Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo dictatorship. Many totalitarian-era monuments are forbidding brutal concrete monoliths. This is one of the most pleasant I’ve seen, and its riverside setting helps in this regard. It’s far more pleasing on the eye than some of the fascist-era monuments in Spain and Italy.
You can take a lift to the viewing platform at the top of the monument. It’s an excellent vantage point, with views over Belem, the river and the Ponte 25 de Abril.
Museums in Belem
There are also several museums within walking distance of the main Belem sights. Bear in mind that these are closed on Mondays.
The Berardo Collection Museum is one of my personal favourite museums in Lisbon, with an emphasis on 20th century and contemporary art. It’s housed in the Centro Cultural de Belem.
The buildings of the Jeronimos Monastery also house two excellent Lisbon museums, the Museu da Marinha (Maritime Museum) and Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (National Archaeological Museum).
It’s also worth paying a visit to the National Coach Museum for an hour or so. It’s a collection of ceremonial horse-drawn carriages, including some of the most overwrought you’ll ever see.
Day 2 Evening
You could stay for dinner at one of several Belem restaurants. The best one I found is Alecrim no Prato, along Rua da Junqueira on the 15 tram route back to central Lisbon.
I also enjoyed my bacalhau (salt cod) at O Prado, on the same street and a little closer to the Belem monuments.
Otherwise I’d recommend taking the tram back as far as Alcantara Mar, then backtracking to the cluster of restaurants around the LX Factory arts centre, just below the Ponte 25 de Abril.
Day 3 – Baixa, Bairro Alto and Chiado
The third and final day of our Lisbon itinerary is concentrated around the centre of the city. The Bairro Alto and Chiado districts occupy the hill immediately to the west of Baixa. This is the flat central area of the city that was levelled in the 1755 earthquake.
Our suggested route takes you up and down the hills, making full use of the Lisbon trams to cut out the steepest climbs if required.
Rossio – officially known as Praça Dom Pedro IV I is one of the oldest squares in Lisbon. It dates back to the Middle Ages, but was one of the areas flattened by the 1755 earthquake. It’s one of the most popular meeting places in Lisbon, and has many cafes and bars (more on one of these later) around the square. It’s also a good place to get your bearings. Rossio train station is off behind a corner of the square, and many tram and bus routes radiate from here. However, for now, we’re going on foot.
Elevador de Santa Justa
This is one of the most spectacular elevators you will ever see. It’s an iron tower built in late 19th century Gothic style. It links the Baixa with the Bairro Alto, and is part of the Lisbon public transport network. The view from the top towards the Castelo is one of the most memorable in the city.
Convento do Carmo
You may well have spotted the ruin of the church of the Convento do Carmo from down below in Rossio. As you may have guessed, the 1755 earthquake was responsible for this state of affairs.
The Gothic church was built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, and the sturdy pointed arches survived the quake intact. The site now contains the Museo Arquologico do Carmo, or Carmo Archaeological Museum.
Igreja de Sao Roque
The plain façade of the church of St Roch, in the heart of Bairro Alto, hides a wealth of treasures within. This Jesuit church has a series of astoundingly ornate chapels along its aisle, especially the Chapel of St John the Baptist.
A Brasileira Lisbon
A Brasileira (‘the Brazilian Lady’) is one of the best cafes in Lisbon. It’s situated on Rua Garrett, in the heart of the Chiado district, a ten-minute walk down Rua da Misericordia.
It was originally opened in 1905 to sell Brazilian coffee, which was a rare luxury item at the time. The café is a mixture of Art Nouveua and Art Deco styles, with a wonderfully opulent interior.
A Brasileira is best known as a haunt of writers and artists, particularly in its early days. There’s a statue outside of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet who sometimes visited the café and wrote there.
Miradouro de Santa Catarina
The Miradouro de Santa Catarina is another of Lisbon’s famous miradouros. It’s next to a popular park overlooking Cais do Sodré, the river and the Ponte 25 de Abril. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset, and there’s a kiosk and restaurant if you wish to stay longer.
Elevador da Bica
The elevador (or ascensor) da Bica is another traditional old Lisbon tram. It runs up and down Rua da Bica, which links the Chiado district with Rua do São Paulo in Cais do Sodré. It’s a typically characterful narrow Lisbon street, sloping steeply down to the river. It’s also one of the most Instagrammable spots in Lisbon, with the best view from the top, just above the tram terminus.
Praça do Comercio
The grand, wide open Praça do Comercio is the hallway of Lisbon. If you ‘re travelling from the south and arrive by train, this splendid square is the sight that greets you. Trains terminate at Barreiro, across the river, and you board a ferry across to the square, formerly known as Terreiro do Paço. It’s one of the most impressive introductions to a city that I’ve ever had. It’s the gateway to the Baixa district Lisbon, and one of the city’s main transport hubs.
The Rua Augusta arch is the visual focal point of the square, and it also serves as another Lisbon miradouro, with a view up Rua Augusta and the Baixa in one direction, and out to the river the opposite way.
You can also visit the Lisboa Story Centre which tells the story of the city through a series of interactive displays. You get to experience what it was like during the Age of Discoveries and the 1755 earthquake, and the city’s subsequent reconstruction.
Ginjinha Sem Rival
Ginjinha, or ginja, is a Portuguese liqueur flavoured by alcohol-infused cherries. If you like some of the fruit-flavoured vodkas you find in Poland, you’ll love this. It’s quite sweet, with a nice kick to it. The only place I’ve ever seen ginja bars is around the north end of Rossio Square. My favourite of these is Ginjinha Sem Rival, a friendly tiny bar just behind the Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II, and close to the Benfica Football Club Museum.
Elevador da Gloria
The humble Elevador da Gloria is one of the best trams in Lisbon. Like an overburdened pack mule, it screeches and grinds its way up one of the steepest sections of hill in Lisbon. After a few minutes it deposits you next to a park which has one of the best Lisbon viewpoints. The view from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara is stupendous, especially around dusk when the twinkling lights of the city are turned on.
Dinner in Bairro Alto
The Cervejaria da Trindade is one of the best places to eat in Lisbon. It’s a wonderful old beer hall on the site of a monastery (Trindade, or Trinity) that was destroyed in 1755. The restaurant dates from 1834, and has taken over the refectory and church of the old monastery.
They have a full, varied Portuguese menu, and the dish I recommend is the cataplana, a delicious seafood stew with clams. The beer they brew on site is very good too.
The Bairro Alto also has some of the best fado bars in Lisbon. It has a great range of places to eat and drink, with most bars and clubs open until 2 am.
Getting Around Lisbon
Despite its hilly layout, Lisbon is an easy city to get around. The elevadores (lifts) and trams cover the hills very well. The modern trams also cover the flat areas of Baixa and the riverfront. Occasionally you’ll need to catch buses in Lisbon as well.
The Lisbon Metro also comes in useful, especially if you’re travelling up and down Baixa, and need to get to Santa Apolonia station. Most tourists only use it from and back to the airport. and the stops from Restauradores and Rossio down to the river. The rest of the network serves local commuters.
If you’re visiting a few Lisbon attractions and museums, it makes sense to invest in a Lisboa Card. This gives you access to virtually all the best things to do in Lisbon, from the Belem Tower to the Elevador de Santa Justa and the various museums. The Lisboa Card costs €40 for three days. If you bought 24 hour tickets for each day that would tally up to €19 alone. The bottom line is that it would save you money.
Where To Stay In Lisbon
Where the best area to stay in Lisbon may be is down to you and your interests. If you want to be close to some of the best bars in Lisbon and the nightlife, then Chiado or Bairro Alto are the places for you. Lisbon Baixa hotels are ideal if you want a very central location – this area has the best transport links. Or you may prefer to stay in an atmospheric, historic neighbourhood, in which case you should check out hotels in Alfama Lisbon.
One of the best hotels in Lisbon is indeed tucked away in the lanes of the Alfama. The Memmo Alfama – Design Hotels is in an evocative location very close to the Sé de Lisboa. If you want to explore the local fado scene, you couldn’t be better placed here.
The Hotel Convento do Salvador is another good Alfama option. It’s just below the Largo das Portas do Sol viewpoint, down Rua do Salvador. It’s a three-star hotel with a lovely open courtyard and swimming pool. The 28 tram is a couple of minutes’ walk away if you want to try that early morning ride.
The Altis Prata Hotel is an apartment hotel in the heart of Baixa, between Rossio and Praça do Comercio. It’s an ideal base close to the metro and some of the tram termini – so it’s not far to walk to Martim Moniz for an early morning trip on the 28 tram. These are ideal if you’re planning to self-cater, or if you’re travelling with kids. They have a good range of family suites available.
MORE OF PORTUGAL
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.